Deanna Zandt has always loved computers. Her fascination with technology started early and has never faded.
But when she fell in love with the Internet in 1994, the medium was still graphically challenged. She couldn’t find a good way to connect with people online. That changed when social media began to take off a decade later.
"That’s when I started to get really excited,” she said.
Zandt translated her enthusiasm to online activism, which is the use of social media for social change. She is the author of "Share this: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking," a book that helps readers use their online presence to make a difference.
Zandt is emblematic of a trend: women now use social media more than men. Several recent nationwide surveys on social media, including two by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, find that women outrank men in social media savvy.
Women are more ‘social’
“Women are more likely than men to be social media users,” said Maeve Duggan, a research assistant at Pew, the premier organization conducting surveys of the impact of high-speed broadband services on people’s lives.
A Pew report from September found that from 2008 to 2013, the average gap between the percentage of women and the percentage of men using social media was 8 percent. In annual polling data conducted by Pew between 2009 and 2012, the proportion of women using social media was 10 percentage points higher than men.
“Women share online, and photos and videos are a natural extension of that (because they) add texture, play and drama to people’s interactions in social networks,” said Duggan.
The results from a separate Pew report released Monday — on the photo and video sharing facilitated by social media services like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter — were even more stark. Among female Internet users surveyed, 59 percent of women shared photos they had taken themselves, versus only 50 percent for men. Among those who “curate” images and video by sharing content created by others, 53 percent of female Internet users had done so compared to 42 percent of males.
The public relations firm Weber Shandwick conducted a similar study about whether women were the key to understanding social media.
“We found that the women of social media enjoy their social networks more than dating or spending time with a partner,” said Elizabeth Rizzo, senior vice president of reputation research at the company.
Rizzo said that the social media giants have finally tapped into the potential of keeping women engaged.
“They're making the connections with like-minded women,” Rizzo said. “They're creating content far beyond hosting contests and conducting online polls. They're using original content to keep these women engaged.”
Zandt says that social media are creating a place for women online for the first time. When the Internet was in its infancy, it was more of a man's game, she said.
“It wasn't easy to be a woman identified online,” said Zandt. “You had to kind of fight for it and really want to be in these conversations," Zandt said. Social media “has helped ease women into a much safer, more comfortable space to be able to participate in ways they just haven't been before."
Pamela Rutledge, director of the nonprofit Media Psychology Research Center, said the tendency of women to use online social networking is not surprising.
“Women tend to be more social and more talkative than men. Social media is another forum for building and maintaining relationships,” she said.
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